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Basic Skills for Living with Diabetes

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Diabetes health tip

Diabetes: Sorting fact from fiction
Diabetes is a serious illness. To help contain this leading cause of disability and death, it’s important to separate fact from fiction.

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Hypoglycemia or low blood glucose

Hypoglycemia means that your blood glucose is low - generally below 70 mg/dL. Symptoms occur quickly and need to be treated as soon as possible.

Low glucose levels vary from person to person, so it is important to ask your doctor or diabetes educator what is too low for you.

Causes Prevention

Not enough food

Eat all your meals and snacks on time.

More physical activity than usual.

Avoid exercise during diabetes medicine peak time.

Drinking alcohol without food.

Always eat a snack or meal when you drink

Too much diabetes medicine.

Take only the dose that has been prescribed.



It is best to be safe. It will not harm you if you take some glucose even if you just suspect that your blood glucose is low.

Mild - one or more of the following:

  • sweating
  • shaking
  • feeling weak/tired
  • feeling anxious or nervous feeling
  • racing heart
  • feeling hungry
  • having a mild headache
  • tingling sensation around lips and tongue

More severe:


A medical identification bracelet or necklace with "Diabetes" on it can help people help you if you can't help yourself. Although not as easily noticed, you can carry a card in your purse or wallet that says you have diabetes.

  • glassy eyes or staring
  • slurred speech
  • confusion
  • staggering walk

Very severe (rare):

  • loss of consciousness
  • seizures.


  1. Test your blood glucose as soon as you feel symptoms.
  2. If your level is low, treat with 15 grams of carbohydrate. Examples include:
  3. 1/2 cup of fruit juice (You don't need to add sugar.)

    1/2 cup of regular pop

    7 to 8 Lifesavers® or other candies

    1 tablespoon of honey or sugar

    2 tablespoons of raisins

    3 large marshmallows

    1 cup of skim milk

    3 to 4 glucose tablets

    15 grams of glucose gel.

  4. Retest your blood glucose every 15 minutes until your blood glucose is above 80 mg/dL without symptoms.

Food needs after hypoglycemic event

Following hypoglycemia, you may need more food:

  • If your next meal or snack is less than one hour away, don't make any changes.
  • If your next meal or snack is 1 to 2 hours away, eat a piece of fruit, or six saltines, or drink 1 cup of skim milk, or eat any food that contains 15 grams of carbohydrate.
  • If your next meal or snack is more than two hours away, eat a piece of fruit plus 1 cup of skim milk, or 1 cup of fruit juice or any food that contains 30 grams of carbohydrate.

Things to remember

Do not subtract what you eat to treat hypoglycemia from your next snack or meal. This food is needed to keep your blood glucose in a better range.

Also, if you have unexplained hypoglycemia often (two times in 1 day or 2 days in a week), call your doctor or diabetes educator.

Insulin, hypoglycemia and driving

If you take insulin, always check your blood glucose before you drive.

  • Do not drive if your blood glucose is lower than 80 mg/dL.
  • If your blood glucose is between 8-0 and 100 mg/dL, eat 10 to 20 grams of fast-acting glucose.
  • Increase your carbohydrates for longer drives.
  • Always keep a fast-acting carbohydrate in your vehicle.

Note: We used the word "glucose" instead of the word "sugar" so it does not get it confused with the sugar in food.


Source: Allina Patient Education, Basic Skills for Living with Diabetes, fifth edition, ISBN 1-931876-32-0

First published: 12/01/2006
Last updated: 10/25/2011

Reviewed by: Allina Patient Education experts